By Sue Withers
“If our impulses were confined to hunger, thirst and desire, we might be nearly free, but now we are moved by every wind that blows and a chance word or scene that that word may convey to us.” – Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
I have just discovered the joy of the talking book. It might be a consequence of getting to a particular ‘stage of life’, but there is great pleasure to be found in listening to someone read aloud whilst I drive along in my car. And so it was I embarked on the discovery of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
I grew up awash with Frankenstein mythology and the monster depicted in cartoons and horror movies. I can well remember chomping through many boxes of Marella Jubes and choc tops watching Bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s Curse and Revenge of Frankenstein at the 2:30pm session at Hoyts cinemas in Bourke Street. So I was somewhat surprised to discover Frankenstein, the book written by Mary Shelley in 1818 at the age of 20, was nothing like those cinematic interpretations.
You know the basic plot – a monster, created by the young Victor Frankenstein, is given life and eventually seeks tragic revenge on its creator. Yet surprisingly Frankenstein’s monster (who is never given a name) is not the foolish oaf of mythology, complete with bolts in the side of his neck, but rather a clever, articulate, almost super-human creature with superior intellect, sensitivity and endurance. Frankenstein’s monster is not a creation of the matinee B grade horror movie but a desperately lonely creature driven by a need for love, beauty and intimacy.
Early in the tale the monster learns of human love by watching, in secret, a family living out their daily life. He sees the gestures of intimacy and small actions of love. He learns of the human capacity for care and weeps as he sees the love shown toward the blind father.
Slowly the monster’s heart is opened and he desperately yearns for love such as this. Yet when he finally works up the courage to make contact with the family he is brutally attacked and driven away. It is a heart breaking scene when the creature seeking only dignity, truth and affection is forced to flee, sowing the seeds for the story’s future destruction.
What could Frankenstein’s monster possibly have to do with the 14th Assembly of the Uniting Church which I have just attended over the past week in Perth?
Maybe I am reminded there are some fundamentally central needs in all human interactions, even a Church meeting.
Maybe when you put 200 odd people in the one space for seven days from every synod, from rural and urban communities, congregations, agencies, schools, synod offices – all with different backgrounds, different needs, different theologies, different political affiliations, different understandings as to what is central to their life of faith – you realise how important it is to always hold central the fundamental human need for dignity, truth and love.
I have been fortunate enough to attend a number of Assemblies over the years, but not for a while, and it was evident to me a few things had changed. For want of a better word, there seemed to be a growth in just basic kindness. Members dealt with each other in their debates and disagreement with just a little more care. This might seem a flimsy, light weight comment – kindness – but its power cannot be underestimated.
There are many big issues facing the Church as she works out her doctrine, polity and order. And the debates and differences of opinion still continue to bloom. This is a good thing. For some people decisions to talk further about key issues such as same-gender marriage, leadership in the Church and governance may seem unnecessarily prolonged. But the desire was also strong that any future conversations recognise the wide embrace of God’s grace.
The call to love one another is sorely tested when we are placed in an arena with people we fundamentally disagree with. Time and time again I have seen church communities and families fall apart when different opinions could not be held and dealt with adequately.
Perhaps immersing oneself in Mary Shelley’s gothic tale of the desire of an outcast to be treated with simple love and regard was good preparation for an Assembly. It is clear to me any business conducted in the spirit of love, truth and dignity these days is a subversive act. Kindness is not to be sentimentalised. It is sheer hard work, but work surely worth doing.
Field Education Co-coordinator
Centre for Theology and Ministry